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THE LEAD WITH JAKE TAPPER

Interview With Former Vice President Joe Biden. Aired 3-3:30p ET

Aired March 24, 2020 - 15:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


[15:00:01]

BRIANNA KEILAR, CNN HOST: Yes, so important.

VAN JONES, CNN POLITICAL COMMENTATOR: Oh, can I say one more thing?

KEILAR: This is -- no, we are literally -- I got nine seconds, Van.

But, of course, love to you, Van. Thank you so much.

JONES: President Trump can also compassionate release.

KEILAR: All right, our special coverage continues now with Jake Tapper.

ANNOUNCER: This is CNN breaking news.

JAKE TAPPER, CNN HOST: Welcome to THE LEAD. I'm Jake Tapper.

In just minutes, I'm going to speak with Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden about the coronavirus pandemic and his bid to try to replace President Trump, as the World Health Organization issues a scary warning today, now saying that the United States has the potential to be the next epicenter of the pandemic.

The numbers reflect the horrific situation, the death toll in the United States now a shocking 646, meaning, in just the last 24 hours, since I was on air last, more than 100 people, 146 more people, have died from the coronavirus.

I want to take just a second here to think about that, so it's not just a number to you or to me; 646, each one of those numbers, someone's son or daughter, someone's mother or father, their brother or sister.

Whether young or old, there are oceans of pain and suffering surrounding each addition to this grim toll.

A week ago, there were just over 6,000 confirmed cases. Now we have crossed the threshold of 50,000, and the calls for supplies from doctors and nurses on the front lines are getting even more dire. The messages from the White House on forcing industry to manufacture

these needed supplies continue to be somewhat contradictory and confusing, but, today, the head of FEMA told CNN that his team is using the Defense Production Act for the first time to secure more testing kits.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ripped apart the response from the federal government this afternoon, arguing in a scathing news conference that he thinks it's inexplicable that the federal government has not yet helped his state get more ventilators.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

GOV. ANDREW CUOMO (D-NY): FEMA says, we're sending 400 ventilators.

Really? What am I going to -- what am I going to do with 400 ventilators, when I need 30,000? You pick the 26,000 people who are going to die because you only sent 400 ventilators.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Governor Cuomo says cases in that state are doubling every three days, doubling every three days. And the governor of New York is predicting that the peak of the crisis in his state could still be up to three weeks away.

Meanwhile, from President Trump, more questions about his leadership. The president, of course, spent weeks belittling the threat of the virus and promising that everything was under control, which it obviously was not.

Top health officials were, however, overjoyed last week when President Trump finally began acknowledging the gravity of the lethal pandemic. They are not as happy today, because the president, encouraged by his economic advisers and people on Twitter, said he wants the nation -- quote -- "opened up and raring" to go by Easter.

That's less than three weeks from today. And that's a date that top health officials do not think will be sufficient to control and contain the coronavirus.

Democratic and Republican senators this afternoon urging President Trump to heed the advice of top health officials.

Among those who do not support ripping off the Band-Aid and just telling everybody to go back to work anytime soon is Dr. Anthony Fauci, who said this just Friday:

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. ANTHONY FAUCI, NIAID DIRECTOR: I don't think, with any moral conscience, you could say, why don't we just let it rip and happen and let X-percent of the people die? I don't understand that reasoning at all.

(END VIDEO CLIP) TAPPER: Even one of the top Republicans in the House, Congresswoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming, tweeted today -- quote -- "There will be no normally functioning economy if our hospitals are overwhelmed and thousands of Americans of all ages, including our doctors and nurses, lay dying because we have failed to do what's necessary to stop the virus" -- unquote.

CNN's Kaitlan Collins is live for us at the White House.

Kaitlan, can you walk us through what the White House is thinking in terms of telling everybody to go back to work by Easter?

KAITLAN COLLINS, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, Jake, they had this meeting with the Coronavirus Task Force on Sunday. And that was when the president made pretty clear he wants to lift these guidelines starting next week, when they expire.

Now, what that's going to look like is the question here, because the health experts have warned, if you send too many people back to work or too many people start going to events, the number of cases in the U.S. is going to spike.

So what they are trying to do right now is come up with a compromise to present to the president, one that they hope will reopen the economy, restart the economy, but also that can keep Americans safe and not get too many people sick by spiking the number here.

So they're considering a phase, potentially, maybe sending people who are younger than 40 back to work, and then gradually returning people who are older than that back to work. They're also considering lifting the federal guidelines, but telling people to follow what their state officials are telling them.

They're also talking about maybe restricting vulnerable people from still going out into society as much, things like keeping nursing homes without visitors. Things of that nature are all on the table right now, as they're trying to find this compromise with the president, though we should note nothing has been set in stone.

[15:05:10]

And, Jake, I do want to note, they're also trying to figure out if they can get data on just how effective that measures over the last week have been. And maybe that could change the president's mind on this.

TAPPER: And, Kaitlan, there's a lot of pushback to this, including from top health officials.

We even saw some public pushback from Republican Congresswoman Liz Cheney, who generally is very supportive of the president. Are there other allies of the president publicly expressing the concerns that top health and medical officials have?

COLLINS: Yes, it's not just Liz Cheney. It's also Lindsey Graham, Joni Ernst, Deb Fischer, all these lawmakers who are urging the president, listen to the medical experts when you're making these decisions.

Follow the CDC guidelines, things of that nature, instead of solely focusing on the advice of his economic advisers, which he's been doing so far, though, Jake, we should note, yesterday, when I asked the president, are you going to follow the advice that the health experts give you next week, when you're making a decision about eating these guidelines, he only said he's going to listen to them, but he said he's going to listen to other people too, Jake.

TAPPER: Kaitlan Collins at the White House, thank you so much.

Joining me now from his new home studio in Wilmington, Delaware, the former vice president of the United States, the current Democratic front-runner for the presidential nomination, Joe Biden.

Vice President Biden, thanks so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

JOSEPH BIDEN (D), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: Well, thank you, Jake.

TAPPER: So, President Trump said today he would like to reopen the country by Easter. What's your response?

BIDEN: He should stop talking and start listening to the medical experts.

You talk about having an economic crisis. You want an economic crisis, watch this spike. Watch the number of dead go up. Watch the number of people who, in fact, connect with this virus. When are you able to open the economy?

Look, we all want the economy to open as rapidly as possible. The way to do that is, let's take care of the medical side of this immediately. One of the things -- he's not responsible for the coronavirus, but he's responsible for the delay in taking the actions that need to be taken as far back as January.

And I just -- I find it incredible. Listen to Dr. Fauci. He's been there since Reagan, all the way through. He worked with our administration. He's a serious, serious player. What is going on with this man?

TAPPER: Mr. Vice President, if you were president right now -- there is a big debate about whether or not President Trump should use the full weight and force of the Defense Production Act to basically compel American industries to manufacture all these medical supplies that are not yet available, ventilators, masks, other PPE, protective gear, for doctors and nurses.

If you were president, would you have enacted that? What would you be demanding of industry?

BIDEN: I would have enacted it a long time ago, Jake.

I think it was three -- two, three weeks ago that the president should enact this. He -- it should have been enacted months ago. This is a position where we know what is coming. All you got to do is look around the world. Every morning, I'm on the

phone for about an hour-and-a-half with all the health experts on my committee or the people working with me. They have been pointing out -- I wish I had the graphs with me.

You see them. The spike in U.S. cases are going like this. It has now surpassed what it would be, if we continue on this path, what happened in Italy.

Look, this is ridiculous. Make the change. Like the governor said, Governor Cuomo, what is he going to do with several hundred or several thousand? He needs a great deal more. The whole country needs them. And let's move now.

And industry is prepared to do it. What is he waiting for? He says he is a wartime president. Well, God, act like one. Move, fast.

TAPPER: The president had a town hall of some sort on his favorite channel earlier today.

He mentioned you. I wanted to play that for you and get your reaction.

BIDEN: OK.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DONALD TRUMP, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I made a decision to close off to China. That was weeks early.

And, honestly, I took a lot of heat. Sleepy Joe Biden said, it is xenophobic. I don't know if he knows what that means, but that's OK.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TAPPER: Your response, sir?

BIDEN: What a piece of work.

(LAUGHTER)

BIDEN: What a piece of work.

You may recall early on, I said what we should be doing is sending our experts to China to look inside, not just take the word. We had a person in China that worked for the administration. I think he got fired or got brought home.

What is he doing? What is he doing? He started off. You go back and look at his comments. How about, China is doing the right thing, China is doing the great thing, China is right along, China is this, China is that?

TAPPER: Yes.

BIDEN: Come on. This is bizarre. TAPPER: So, you know that it is not just President Trump. There are

other people who are concerned about the economy. I assume you're concerned about the economy as well.

BIDEN: I am very much concerned about the economy.

TAPPER: And there are people who think, well, maybe there does need to be some sort of balance, some sort of reasonable balance, regulated and suggested and guided, I guess is the right word, by health officials.

[15:10:09]

BIDEN: Yes.

TAPPER: Dr. Birx, who you know -- she was in charge of the PEPFAR program, now helping to lead the Coronavirus Task Force.

BIDEN: Yes.

TAPPER: She said today that they want to be -- quote -- "laser- focused" in dealing with the pandemic, and are considering regional responses, which could allow some to go back to work.

Is that an approach that you would consider?

BIDEN: I'd like to know what the scientific facts are. But, yes, it is possible.

I don't want to slow the economy. I would like everybody to be back to work. But let's be reasonable here. Let's look at what happened in other countries. Look what happened when we have social distancing.

As you have said it 50 times on the air, Jake, you got to -- that curve, you got to flatten that curve. This is how it's going up, more and more and more and more people getting the coronavirus, more people dying. You have got to flatten it.

Now, there are places in the country where I could see it makes sense to go back to work to deal with certain issues, to certain notions.

But the idea that we are in a position where we're saying that, by -- what did he say? By Easter, he wants to have everybody going back to work? I mean, what is he talking about? He started off misrepresenting the problem.

All of the way back in January 17, I wrote a piece for "U.S. News & World Report" saying, we have got a real problem. The president, we have -- coronavirus is real. We have so start acting now.

I wasn't unique in that. The intelligence community had already come forward and said it. He paid no attention.

Again, the virus is not his fault, but the way in which he has been so slow in responding in what needs to be done, what was already in place, is astonishing. TAPPER: You said your -- one of the biggest concerns is all the

misinformation out there, which seem to be aimed at President Trump in some ways.

Do you think -- you literally think he should stop talking about the coronavirus?

BIDEN: I think he should listen to the scientific experts. Listen to them. Listen to Dr. Fauci.

He's not a scientist. Let the scientists speak. Let them lay out the facts as they know them. Let's lay out what has happened in other countries as we know it.

This is not unique to the United States of America. He should be listening to the experts. That doesn't mean he shouldn't be talking to his economic -- every single day, Jake, I start off with an hour-and- a-half briefing with the scientists on my -- that I put together, the team of scientists.

And then I have an hour-and-a-half briefing from my economic people, the economists who are working with me.

They both have to be considered. They both have to be looked at to see what we have to do. And, look, the ways to deal with that -- if he wants to make sure that the economy doesn't collapse, well, let's make sure we get aid immediately, now, now, to all of the people who are working people who are getting laid off, who are losing their time, who can't pay their rent, who are not able to keep their mortgage.

These are people that need help immediately, immediately.

TAPPER: Mr. Vice President--

BIDEN: And we -- corporations are going to need help too, but we have to set conditions about which they are able to use that money for; $500 billion and a blank check doesn't work.

But $500, accountability, you pay it back, you cannot raise your salary of the CEOs, you cannot buy back stock, you have to be accountable, you have to keep people on the payroll, that's a totally different thing.

That's another way to keep the economy up and going enough so that when this -- we're through this, we are not losing a step to make the kind of progress we have to make.

TAPPER: Mr. Vice President, if it is OK, I'm going to squeeze in a quick break. I want to still talk to you, continue our conversation, if that's OK.

BIDEN: Sure. Thank you.

TAPPER: OK, we're going to squeeze in a quick break.

We will be right back. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

[15:18:07]

TAPPER: And we're back with 2020 Democratic presidential candidate former Vice President Joe Biden, discussing the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Vice President, thanks for sticking with us.

(CROSSTALK)

TAPPER: To state the obvious, older people are more adversely affected by the coronavirus than younger people.

You're 77 years old. How have you been adjusting to the threat from this virus? What have you been doing to keep yourself safe?

BIDEN: Well, I have been following the recommendations of our governor. And I have been staying in place, not going out, not gathering at events.

And the good news is that, thank God, at least what I have been told by the docs, that I have no underlying condition that would complicate my circumstance.

But, look, it's about keeping -- like, for example, I -- we're told that we shouldn't be around our young grandchildren. So, my -- Beau's children, my deceased son's children, live about a mile as the crow flies from us.

And every day, they walk over through the woods and through a neighborhood, and they sit out in the backyard, and we sit in the porch. And I bribe them with ice cream. But we talk about the day, and we hang out.

And -- but we -- I'm not able to go down and hug them and kiss them, which I usually do. I'm just following the instructions that -- and anybody who walks into the house from the Secret Service on, they're wearing masks and gloves.

So, we're just taking the precautions that we're told are the responsible things to do in terms of keeping our distance.

TAPPER: Have you been tested for the coronavirus?

BIDEN: No, I have not been tested for the coronavirus.

I have had, thank God, no symptoms that I'm aware of. It doesn't mean that that can't happen. But I have not been tested.

TAPPER: I want to ask you about your presidential campaign and your rival, Senator Bernie Sanders.

Sanders is ramping up for the next round of primary, including in the state of New York. The math is tough for him.

[15:20:03]

What do you think about him continuing his campaign, continuing to compete in primaries?

BIDEN: Well, I think that is his decision.

And I have been asked that question, as you recall, about all of the other folks who were in the primary before, all of whom have dropped out, I think, with one exception, have formally endorsed me. That is a decision for them to make, not for me to make.

TAPPER: You have said that you're going to pick a woman as your vice presidential nominee.

You made that announcement during the CNN debate.

BIDEN: Yes.

TAPPER: Have you have had conversations with any specific potential vice president as of yet about the job?

BIDEN: No, I have not.

I am putting together a team of people to do background checks and a committee that will oversee the process, and because, realistically, if the July 15 is still the time for the nomination, or convention, we're going to be in a position where you have to get these under way and the background checks started relatively soon, sometime in April.

TAPPER: Given the corona--

BIDEN: I have not, though -- I--

TAPPER: Yes.

BIDEN: I have not talked to any individual.

(COUGHING)

BIDEN: Excuse me.

TAPPER: You know, you're supposed to cough into your elbow. I don't know, sir -- I learned that actually covering your White House, that--

BIDEN: That's -- no, actually, that is true. But, fortunately, I'm alone in my home. But that's OK.

TAPPER: All right.

BIDEN: I agree. You're right. Excuse me.

TAPPER: You should just -- it's kind of old-school to do it with your hand. Do it into your elbow. You're supposed to do it.

BIDEN: Thank you.

(LAUGHTER)

TAPPER: Let me ask you.

Given the coronavirus pandemic, do you think the Democratic National Committee should call off the planned in-person Democratic Convention this summer?

BIDEN: No, I don't think so.

I think we ought to be able to conduct our democratic processes, as well as deal with this issue. But, look, that decision will be made as the state of the nation at the moment.

But I don't think it should be called off. And I don't think we should call off any of the elections. I think we just have to move forward. We may have to use different means and methods.

There is an awful lot of direct-mail voting now going on, which may be one of the answers. But I think it depends on the circumstances that exist.

But we can't -- in the middle of the Civil War, we had an election. In a virus in the 1900s, we had -- in the teens, we had the election. In the middle of World War II, we had an election. We can't let the democratic process be interrupted by the process of dealing with this virus.

We can do both.

TAPPER: Do you know anybody with the virus? Have you talked to anybody who is suffering from this?

BIDEN: No, I haven't. I have -- well, I shouldn't say that.

On the telephone, I have talked to people suffering from the virus or have loved ones who are suffering.

My friend Amy Klobuchar's husband contracted the virus. I have been talking to her. There's others who I know of, but I have not in person spoke with anybody who has the virus.

TAPPER: Lastly, sir, what is your message to the American people during this time?

Because it is obviously very difficult. A lot of people are very scared. A lot of people are sick. A lot of people have loved ones who are sick.

What -- you want to be the next president of the United States. What is your message to all these frightened Americans?

BIDEN: My message is, we will overcome this.

Look, the American people are incredible. I talked about -- early on in this campaign, unrelated to this virus, about the soul of America. Well, we're now seeing the soul of America. Look what is happening.

Look what is happening all own the country. People are pulling together. They're helping one another. They're doing what needs to be done to prevent the spread. They're stepping up. They're making sacrifices.

They're looking out for one another across the board. This is -- I'm so darn proud to be an American. And it sounds like hyperbole, but it is true. Look at what we have done.

The American people have never, ever, ever, ever let their county down when given an opportunity to respond. And we just have to level with them. They're tough. They're smart. They can handle it.

But give them the facts. The only thing that's going to make things worse, if we, in fact, don't give them the facts, and then things turn out to be bad. Then who do they believe? What is there to believe?

They can handle whatever comes their way.

And my heart goes out to all those folks you just announced, as you said. I wrote it down, and I got the brief this morning, an additional number of cases and the number of deaths.

My God. Having -- losing a child or a wife or a husband, it's -- I have been there. It is really, really, really tough.

But they will get through it. And I just -- I just -- we just have to be supportive. We have to be supportive.

And one of the things we can be supportive of is on the economic side to make sure that they are not going without the economic means that are necessary to keep their households moving.

TAPPER: Vice President Biden, thank you so much for your time. Please stay healthy. Really appreciate it.

BIDEN: You too, Jake. Thank you very much. Appreciate it.

TAPPER: Coming up next: New York's governor says his state is the new epicenter in the U.S., with cases doubling every three days. What is driving that? How long might it last?

[15:25:05]

Stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

TAPPER: New York state is now the epicenter in the United States for the coronavirus, with more than 25,000 confirmed cases.